At least 7 injured in building explosion in Lower Manhattan

·National Correspondent

At least seven people have been injured — including two critically — in an explosion in New York City’s Chinatown area.

According to the New York Fire Department, the explosion took place on the first floor of 17 Pike Street in Lower Manhattan shortly before 12:45pm Thursday. The building, located a few blocks north of the Manhattan Bridge, was home to a commercial bus business on the ground floor.

A fire official said the blaze subsequently spread to the building’s upper four floors, which partially collapsed, sending huge plume of smoke into the air.

A Fire Department spokesman said two victims were rushed to New York Presbyterian Hospital’s burn center in critical condition while the other five victims — including one firefighter — were transferred to other area hospitals with undisclosed injuries.

The blaze was brought under control about an hour later, according to Fire Department spokesman, but several nearby buildings remain evacuated as officials investigate the cause of the explosion. There also were concerns about the structural viability of the building.

The explosion comes after several deadly fires in the neighborhood in recent years, including a December 2010 fire on Grand Street that killed one man, injured several dozen and left more than 200 people homeless.

Christopher Kui, executive director for Asian Americans for Equality, said his group had been pressing city and state officials to focus on fire safety in the aftermath of those deadly fires — especially in a neighborhood populated with older buildings that have not been brought up to current safety codes.

"Chinatown has some of the oldest stock buildings in the city. There's a lot of overload with the use of the buildings," said Kui, who is working to help the tenants displaced by Thursday's fire. "A lot of the buildings are suffering neglect. They have old boilers and the infrastructure is not being fixed."

William Holt contributed to this story.